The history books of the Bible, including Acts, show us God’s people with all of their difficulties and flaws. It does not gloss over problems to make people look better than they are. In this passage, Luke records the split between Paul and Barnabas.
Paul wanted to return to the cities they visited on the first missionary trip. He invited Barnabas to go with him again. (36) Barnabas wanted to bring Mark with them. Paul disagreed because Mark had abandoned them at the beginning of the previous trip.
This was no small disagreement. Luke calls it a “sharp” disagreement. So, evidently, the argument escalated substantially, so much so that Barnabas left with Mark and sailed to Cyprus, Barnabas’ home country.
Paul then took Silas, one of the leading men that had come to Antioch from Jerusalem with the message from the council. He was a prophet and had stayed in Antioch a while teaching.
Paul and Silas obtained the commendation of the Antioch church. Where Barnabas had sailed to Cyprus, Paul went overland through Syria and Cilicia. He was from Tarsus in Cilicia, so he may have gone through his home town.
Although this disagreement and separation must have been painful, God used it to multiply the work, now having two teams of missionaries. Although Mark had fallen out of Paul’s favor, he later redeemed himself, by his service, even joining Paul in Rome when Paul was in prison. (Philemon 24) He joined Peter in Rome and wrote the gospel of Mark. (1 Peter 5:13) Peter referred to Mark as his son, so they must have been close and Mark must have been a co-worker for the gospel.
Continuing north and east, Paul returned to Derbe and Lystra in Galatia, crossing the Taurus mountains through the pass know as the Cilician Gates (now the Gulek Pass). There in Lystra Paul met Timothy. Timothy was a believer. His mother was a converted Jew, likely coming to faith during Paul’s first visit there. His father was a non-believing Greek. (1) Timothy was well thought of by the local churches. Paul wanted to take Timothy on the journey with him and Silas. Timothy agreed.
Paul circumcised Timothy so that the Jews he would encounter along the way would not be offended. This is interesting, because he later took Titus, a Greek, with him to Jerusalem and did not circumcise him.
Part of the ministry of the missionaries to these churches was to deliver the letter from James and the council in Jerusalem to the Gentiles. Silas would have been the one to do this, since he had been the emissary that brought the letter to Antioch. Luke tells us the churches were strengthened and grew in numbers daily. (5)
Paul and Silas continued northeast through what is now Turkey, passing through the provinces of Phrygia and Galatia. The area east of Galatia was then called Asia. Paul may have intended to re-visit Ephesus. The Holy Spirit, however, did not allow them to preach in Asia. Luke does not tell us how the Holy Spirit did that. But, God clearly had somewhere else he wanted them to go and preach.
Paul kept moving and tried to go north into Bithynia, but again the Spirit did not allow them. So, they went east to the coastal city of Troas. While at Troas, Paul had a vision of a man urging him to come to Macedonia and help. Paul took the vision as being from the Lord, so he immediately took his group to Macedonia, sailing across a short stretch of water between what is now Turkey to what is now Greece. That body of water is called the Aegean Sea.
Interestingly, for the first time, Luke used the word “we” in saying that the group went to Macedonia. So, the group now consists of at least Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Luke. Luke may have lived in Troas, or was there waiting to take a ship to Macedonia.
The journey to Macedonia is also significant because it is the first venture into Europe from Asia and the Middle East. The gospel begins to expand to a whole new area.
The First Converts in Europe
Paul headed to Philippi, a major Roman city in Macedonia. For the first time on his journeys, Paul could not find a Jewish synagogue to visit. That likely means there were few, if any, Jews in the city. If 10 Jewish men lived there, they could build a synagogue.
On the Sabbath, he went out of the city to the river Gangites. He thought it might be a place of prayer. Indeed he found a group of women meeting there. One was named Lydia. She was from the Asian city of Thyatira, south of Troas. Thyatira was located in what was once the kingdom of Lydia. She may have been named after that kingdom, as the Lydian woman. Thyatira is also one of the seven churches addressed in the book of Revelation.
Luke described her as a “worshiper of God”. This indicates she was probably not Jewish, but a Gentile “God fearer”. Paul shared the gospel with her. The Lord opened her heart and she believed. (15) She was the first convert in Europe.
Since Lydia believed, she was baptized, evidently in the river, as was all of her household. Lydia then demonstrated Christian hospitality, urging Paul and his companions to come and stay at her house while they were in Philippi.
The next time Paul and his companions went to the place of prayer by the river, they encountered a slave girl who had a spirit of divination. The Romans believed a god could give a person special knowledge. Her owners used her skills to make a lot of money. The passage shows she got her knowledge from an evil spirit, or demon. Paul was able to discern that.
The girl identified Paul and Silas as servants of the Most High God who proclaim the way of salvation. That, of course, was true. (17) She kept this up for days, drawing unwanted attention to Paul and suggesting a connection between her and Paul. Luke said Paul was “greatly annoyed”. (18) Paul commanded the spirit, in the name of Jesus, to leave the girl and the spirit did.
The problem with that was, the girl’s owners could no longer make money off of her divination. They grabbed Paul and Silas and took them to the city rulers. (20) They complained that the men were Jews, were disturbing the city, and advocation things the Romans were not allowed to practice. (22) None of these allegations were true, but they stirred up the crowd. The rulers tore the clothes off of Paul and Silas, had them beaten, and thrown into prison. They even put their feet in stocks. You can imagine how uncomfortable they were, sore and bleeding from the beating, sitting on a cold floor in a dungeon, with their legs extended and their feet in wooden stocks.
Even though Paul was a Roman citizen, he was not given the right to a hearing or to defend himself. The city rulers were more interested in keeping the peace. He would later write that he was shamefully treated. (1 Thessalonians 2:2)
In all of this, God was working. Paul and Silas sat in jail singing hymns and praying. (25) God sent an earthquake that shook the prison, opened all the cell doors, and unfastened the stocks. (26)
The jailer saw this and prepared to kill himself, thinking he had soiled his honor by failing in his duty to keep the prisoners. But Paul reassured him that no one had left.
The jailer saw the earthquake and the failure of the prisoners to leave as supernatural events, or acts of God. He was afraid. He may have heard the declarations of the slave girl, because he went to Paul and Silas and asked “what must I do to be saved?”.
Paul shared the gospel with the jailer, and all who were in his house, saying “believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, along with your household. (31) He believed, as did his whole family, and they were baptized. He also practiced Christian hospitality, taking Paul and Silas into his home and feeding them.
The Magistrates Change Course
In the morning, the magistrates ordered the release of Paul and Silas. Paul, however, asserted his Roman citizenship and pointed out that they could not treat them wrongfully in public and let them go in private. The magistrates were afraid because they had mistreated a citizen. They came and apologized and asked them to leave the city. They could not legally force them to leave the city sine they were Roman citizens.
Paul did leave, but not before going to visit Lydia and encouraging the new believers. (40)
The Holy Spirit directed the missionary activities, sending the missionaries to certain places and keeping them from other places. He opened the hearts of those Paul spoke to so that they believed the gospel and were saved. He let the missionaries suffer at times in order to place them where he wanted them, even in jail. Jesus continued to build his church as he said he would.